The air hangs heavy with a perfume of orchids and mango, curry and teakwood as the sun beats down.
You go deep into the maze till you’re lost amid stalls of carved Buddhas, weavings, and ancient temple bells. Welcome to Bangkok’s Chatuchak, the world’s largest market.
Bazaars like Chatuchak turn shopping into a cultural exchange, knitting you into local rhythms, customs, and traditions like few other travel experiences can. The best give you an entrée into day-to-day life, allowing you to interact with sellers and to come away with souvenirs that truly tell a story.
“When you are traveling and shopping the local markets, the ‘edit’ or mix of goods isn’t designed for you—it’s for the locals—so you run a much better chance of finding something you’ve never seen or even thought of before,” says Wendy Wurtzburger, Anthropologie’s chief merchandising officer.
It’s the vibe of bazaars as much as what you buy there that inspires Wurtzburger and the buyers at Anthropologie. “The color, the mix of textures, and the sheer volume of stuff make the experience. You can’t take that home,” she says. But you can find items that evoke that feeling. For Wurtzburger that might mean a 1960s suzani (embroidered textile) found in Istanbul or a vintage oil painting from Paris.
Les Puces’ Le Marché Serpette in Paris is among the most famous, well-established bazaars and has retained its cool over more than 200 years. In Buenos Aires, too, the San Telmo flea market has been a Sunday tradition since 1897. You can review the day’s purchases—perhaps a leather saddlebag or vintage glassware—over a bottle of Malbec at one of the outdoor cafés as dancers tango through the street.
Even as these bazaars remain favorites, design hounds the world over are increasingly getting inspiration from the next generation of cool bazaars like the Brooklyn Flea and London’s Brixton Village Market. They create a space for artisans to sell their goods and a sense of community for like-minded locals and tourists who can pour over the latest that each city has to offer.
Start by browsing our picks for the world’s coolest bazaars, from these new-guard markets to the ancient souks of Marrakesh and India and the grande dame fleas.
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Marrakesh Souk, Morocco
The city of Marrakesh was founded on shopping: it was a desert trading post for caravans on their way to and from Timbuktu. And though certainly more modernized (ATMs aplenty), its souks still throb with the heady exoticism that has long drawn travelers down its alleyways. Serious shoppers should set aside two full days to get lost in the maze of streets, getting past the touristy stalls right at the main Djemaa El Fna Square, past rug-sellers and lantern stands, musical instruments and sweets shops, to where leather is still tanned, silver is worked by hand, and wool is dyed in steaming rainbow-hued vats.
Best Buy: Moroccan wedding blankets. Long a favorite of high-end designers like Jonathan Adler, these white fringed and sequined throws are thought to ward off evil spirits. And here they cost about a quarter of the price that they do in U.S. boutiques. Open daily.
Feria de San Pedro Telmo, Buenos Aires
You go to the Feria de San Pedro Telmo on Sundays as much for what you can buy—vintage frocks, Art Deco jewelry, antiques—as for what you can see. The market was built in 1897 and retains the turn-of-the-century charm of leaded glass and wrought iron. Throughout the streets, tango dancers, classical guitarists, and other performers entertain tourists as well as porteños out for a weekend stroll. After dark, the stalls on the neighboring Plaza Dorrego are cleared away to make room for an outdoor milonga, or tango gathering. Review the day’s purchases while you watch the dancing over a glass of Malbec at one of the outdoor cafés.
Best Buy: Argentina is known for its leather, and there are amazing deals to be had here on vintage saddlebags. Open Sundays.
Panjiayuan Jiuhuo Shichang, Beijing
If people in Beijing tell you to go to the Hong Qiao Shichang for cheap pearls and knock-off bags, do not listen. Unless, of course, you enjoy getting full-body tackled while haggling for a faux Chloe bag (true story!). What you really want out of a Chinese shopping experience can be found in the wee morning hours at Panjiayuan Jiuhuo Shichang, a.k.a. the Dirt Market. Each weekend, vendors set up row upon row of antique furniture, delicate teapots, vintage Mao memorabilia, old instruments, and more. Come ready to bargain.
Best Buy: Vintage curios. A recent visit turned up a 1940s Chinese globe and a Mao tea set for less than $15 each. Open weekends.
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